We're kicking off TODAY Food's Grilling Guide with expert tips from chefs and grill masters from across the country. Starting us off with their go-to techniques are Megan Day, Loreal Gavin and Matt Abdoo. Day dishes up tricks on how to clean and temp your grill, Gavin talks grill prep and safety and Abdoo breaks down the six rules of perfecting grilled kebabs.
"An alternative to using wire brushes (that may leave small wires and bits of metal behind) is rubbing your grill grates with a peeled half onion. Allow the grill to heat up to a high temperature. Pierce the half onion with a fork and rub the cut-side down along the grill grates. The onion's juices will release and produce steam to remove the bits and charred on debris," says Day. "Another fun grill trick is using a potato to measure the ambient temperature at your cooking level surface. Take a wired probe thermometer and a halved potato and stick thermometer through the cut spud, allowing the tip of the probe to stick out the other side. Place the cut side of the potato on the grate. This helps take the guess work out of grilling."
"Make sure your grill is preheated. What does that mean? It must be hot enough to immediately sear what you're placing on the grill," advises Gavin. "I like to use a raw potato cut in half to see if it's hot enough to get cooking. Cut a potato in half, and set it flesh side down on the hot grill. Set a timer for 1 minute. The potato should have a slight grill mark on it and have easily been removed from the grill. You can also use the trick to locate the hot and cold spots of your grill."
Gavin also recommends, "Before you get to grilling, it's very important to have everything you need around you before you start cooking. If you need tongs, have them! If you can't grill without a drink in hand, you better have one already made. Grilling is a big deal and you don't want to forget something that will cause you to have to leave your cooking station. A grill should always be attended, even if you're a professional grill master. You are literally cooking with fire and it's important to keep a watchful eye on it. With safety in mind, keep a box of baking soda nearby to throw on the grill if the flames ever get out of hand."
"Kebabs are something very near and dear to my heart! Being half Lebanese and half Italian I grew up eating them all the time and they were a staple during the summer. We would eat them with rice, fresh pita bread and a cucumber and tomato salad made with ingredients from my parent's garden," Abdoo reminisces. "The great thing about kebabs is that they are quick to cook, super convenient to assemble the day before and your ingredient options are limitless. It's very common to make them with cubed chicken, beef and veggies. But lamb, pork, ground meat, sliced meat, firm fish (like sword fish and tuna) and shrimp are also great options to jazz up your summer cook out!"
To perfect your kebab cooking technique follow these simple rules:
Timing is everything.
Cook your meat and veggies separately. They have different cooking times, so in order to not overcook your meat and undercook your veggies, keep them on separate skewers. Even though they look really pretty to alternate meats and veggies, it doesn't cook as well.
Assemble and marinate them the night before. This allows you to really boost the flavor of whatever it is you are cooking and makes it super fast to cook when needed. Marinades can be as fast and easy as a pre-made Italian or Greek salad dressing or you can make your own or even create a signature spice blend! Whatever flavors you like to eat, I encourage you to season or marinade with!
Select the right skewers.
If you are using wooden skewers, definitely soak them at least an hour before skewering your meat to prevent them from catching on fire on the grill. I find that metal skewers work better and cook a little faster because they conduct heat better than wooden skewers. If you are going to make kebabs more than once a year, metal skewers are a good, inexpensive investment. For metal, make sure they are flat skewers, not round, to prevent the meat or vegetables from spinning or sliding around on the skewer.
Choose the right cut of meat.
If you are making beef kebabs you definitely want to use a more tender cut of meat. Something like chuck is great for stews and long slow cooking techniques, but for the quick, high heat of a grill you want to pick something along the lines of tenderloin, strip loin, rib-eye, flank steak or skirt steak. If grilling up chicken, breast is usually the go-to, but thighs will result in a much more moist kebab as the breast can dry out quickly.
Control the temperature.
When cooking kebabs, set up your grill with two heat zones. High- to medium-high on one side for searing and medium-low to finish cooking through without over charring the outside of the meats and veggies.
Don't forget the flavor.
Try some finishing glazes and dipping sauces to accompany your kebabs. Just be sure that if you glaze your kebabs with something that is sugary (like teriyaki or BBQ sauce) to add them at the end and cook them over medium-low heat so it won't burn. Dipping sauces are also always fun to have with any kebabs. I love to serve kebabs with garlicky lemon yogurt, creamy guacamole or tangy Dijon and balsamic dip.
For more tips and tricks from TODAY's trusted grill masters (and the anchors!), download our special-edition guide right here.